END OF 2018 OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD (42 states)

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UnitedHealthcare: Curiouser and curiouser...what's going on with Harken Health??

Hat tip to someone named "Chuck" (no last name or organization given) for the tip.

Yet Another Post® about UnitedHealthcare, I'm afraid. Healthcare pundits/reporters have found last week's United announcement extremely oddly-timed, especially given that they were giving a very positive outlook for the ACA exchanges just a month earlier.

In short: UHC sat out the ACA exchanges in 2014, dove into half the states head first for 2015, expanded into another 11 states for 2016...but then suddenly announced that they "may" drop out of the exchanges completely in 2017? Furthermore, they made this announcement a month after painting a glowing outlook in their official quarterly report and did so in the middle of the 2016 open enrollment period? Something doesn't sound right here.

Well, today I've learned another tidbit which seems odd to me, although it's possible that there's nothing amiss here:

Health insurance startup joins Illinois market in flux

Chicago-area residents who buy health plans on the federal online insurance marketplace will see some new options for 2016 that are a sign of where health care is headed.

Insurance startup Harken Health will launch in Cook County on Nov. 1, when the Affordable Care Act's third open enrollment season begins, company executives told the Tribune in an exclusive interview. Harken will combine an insurance plan with its own medical clinics in a kind of holistic system that President Barack Obama's health care law encourages.

Harken's entry comes at a time of upheaval in the Illinois individual marketplace. Assurant Health, which was new to the Illinois health insurance exchange this year, is shutting down its financially troubled insurance business and will not sell plans during open enrollment. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the state's largest health insurer, is eliminating its popular individual plan that had the largest network of doctors and hospitals. Blue Cross said on its website that it plans to announce details about a new product for the Chicago area later this month.

Plans and pricing for 2016 are expected to be available as early as Sunday on Healthcare.gov for consumers to begin window shopping.

Note: It's important to note that this article was from October 18th, 3 days after the positive UHC quarterly report but 2 weeks before OE3 started (and obviously a month before the "we might pull out in 2017" announcement from last Thursday).

OK, so what does this "Harken Health" story have to do with UnitedHealthcare? Simple:

Harken is a symbol of the changes. The company is an independently operated subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest health insurer. UnitedHealth has taken a cautious approach to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It did not participate in the first year of the Illinois exchange in 2014 and this year offered individual plans only in Cook County. A company spokesman said UnitedHealth will offer plans in more Illinois counties in 2016 but declined further comment.

In 2014, UnitedHealth put together a small group of employees, led by Tom Vanderheyden, vice president of business development and innovation, to come up with something new. Acknowledging the frustration of consumers over the complexity of insurance, Vanderheyden said the group looked outside the industry at companies known for good customer service. For example, he looked to the simplicity of the menu at the Chipotle restaurant in rethinking how an insurance company should design a plan.

It's an interesting article in it's own right, discussing the "new type of insurance policy" etc etc...but the key point is this: Why is UnitedHealthcare scaring the crap out of everyone into thinking that they're gonna bail on the exchanges completely next year when they're simultaneously launching all-new subsidiary companies to sell policies on the exchange this year?

Again, perhaps there's nothing weird about this, but it sure sounds odd to me.